Can I play your festival please?

I started this morning by listening to bits and pieces on soundcloud and YouTube from bands who have asked if they can play unfest this May. Unfest took it’s starting basis from showcasing acts from The Forum’s label: unlabel – and this is still very much the core of the festival. However, how do you know what you are missing if you don’t listen to the rest? The unfest facebook direct message section isn’t the only place that emerging bands ask about shows – there is also The Forum facebook page, a direct booking link on the website as well as through The Musician’s Club contact link.

Not all the acts asking to play are from Tunbridge Wells; such is the popularity of festivals I feel many bands apply to play as many festivals as possible, in the hope of at least a few shows and a few extra fans. Due to the small scale of unfest, it’s unlikely many new acts will get a place to play. Even with the quantity of shows and private bookings throughout The Forum’s year, it’s impossible to find room for everyone to play who would like to, although there is now the second stage in The Sussex Arms basement. With a capacity of about 50, here’s a chance to host your own evening, and extend your fanbase. It’s also quite hard as a ‘promoter’ to listen to a studio recording on soundcloud, and work out if a band has a good live presence, and this is one area where small gigs, and showcase nights are helpful. But should we concentrate on selecting ‘local’ acts?

When we booked acts for Tunbridge Wells Ice Rink we were keen to keep away from the phase “local, live bands”, partly as those words are adopted by another festival, but partly because in a way the word local can demean the music. All bands are local to somewhere. The Beatles were local to Liverpool…. But there is a feeling that by saying an act is local to the area, it has less worth than a touring band. Or does the word local create a loyalty? There are, in Tunbridge Wells, some truly excellent local bands. There are also excellent bands who are local to other areas, and while they might not have fans here, are worth a listen to.

This is where the Off Axis scheme is good, as bands get the chance almost to ‘pen pal’ with other bands in other towns, and share audiences. As part of Hastings Fat Tuesday a couple of Tunbridge Wells bands – WAX and The Crew will be in Hastings on Sunday 26th February to play, and hopefully pick up some new fans. I co-ordinated with Andy from The Stinger Mag and Fat Tuesday to select the Tunbridge Wells bands. The Forum were keen to put forward acts who do the other thing as well as playing – watching other bands. Anyone who comes along and watches other shows, and has a chat to staff and volunteers, stands a better chance of staying in those people’s memories when gigs need recommendations and support slots filled. For Hastings we also had the usual fun of ‘availability’ which meant a third slot on offer didn’t get filled by a TWells act.

Finally for bands looking for a gig, this piece from 2003 by Mark Davyd (now of Music Venue Trust and Rhythmix ) is a reminder to never get into the lobster moment:

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